Bad Touch: Stop Redesigning the Touchpad

At Acer’s annual showcase event last week, it debuted its Predator Triton 700, a superthin gaming laptop with a huge quirk: its touchpad is located above the keyboard. Not only that, it’s covered with Gorilla Glass, so you can’t even click it.

Unfortunately, Acer’s decision to drastically alter many people’s primary method of interacting with their laptops isn’t a one-off. It’s part of a disturbing industry-wide trend of companies ruining the look, location and function of their touchpads. Have they ever heard the maxim: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"?

The Triton is first and foremost a gaming PC. Using a touchpad for gaming is a fool’s errand, so of course you’ll be buying a mouse from Razer or Logitech (or, Acer hopes, something Predator-branded). But what about when you want to hang out on the couch and mindlessly scroll Facebook? Hope you like using a mechanical keyboard as a wrist rest. Lenovo’s Legion Y520 took what should have been a simple, usable feature and screwed with it to make it look, quite literally, more edgy. The result? A trapezoidal surface that, in my review, I found to be maddening to use, as I constantly hit the edges of the pad.

And then there’s the Samsung Notebook Odyssey. Technically, the touchpad works as you would expect. Except for one thing: there’s a big rhombus pattern with red LED lights surrounding it. Everyone I’ve shown that laptop assumed that that surface had some sort of function. Maybe it was an extended but oddly shaped touchpad. No. Then the conversation goes like this:

“Are they buttons?”
“No. It does nothing. Just for show.”
“That’s stupid.”

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Other companies, including Acer and Asus, have recently started putting fingerprint readers in a corner of their touchpads. I’m all for fingerprint readers. Anything that lets me use Windows Hello (or, in the case of the Mac, Touch ID) to log in easily and securely is a win in my book. But putting the reader on the trackpad takes up space that can be used to navigate Windows 10 or a web browser. It’s easy to move your finger and skip over the reader, with the mouse screeching to a halt. Put it next to the trackpad. Put it above the keyboard. Put it anywhere else but on the touchpad, where it can get in the way when I don’t want to be using it.

Of course, there has been some positive touchpad innovation in the last few years. While the reception to it has been mixed, I’m a fan of Apple’s unfortunately named Force Touch trackpads, which simulate the feel of clicking without actually moving. The fewer parts that can break, the better.

Real pros use external mice, as do gamers. But everyone, at some point, will use the touchpad. That's why we rate them in all of our reviews. If your users can’t easily and comfortably navigate around the desktop and software, you’ve done something wrong.

Photo Credit: Sam Rutherford, Jeremy Lips / Laptop Mag

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